Mar 30 2011

Lenten Meditation #1

During a Candler chapel service known as “Songs and Prayers for the Lenten Journey,” several students shared spoken word reflections.  For the next few Wednesdays we will share some of these reflections with you.

This week’s reflection is from second year MDiv Jason Myers.

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Thinking of Romans

My window faces north, Lord,

I seek you there.

The sun moves behind me, Lord,

you move the moon.

It is eight in the morning, Lord,

the sun is at my right hand.

The grass is sweet in the early quiet, Lord,

the night spills sugar.

I had a bed to sleep in, Lord,

and time to dream.

None of these gifts, Lord,

do I deserve – not the

coffee in my cup, Lord,

the embrace of friends,

the smiles of strangers, Lord,

you spend so lavishly

while I wait and wait and wait, Lord,

as though the gift was not already given.


Jason is involved in a variety of activities at Candler – including Creation Keepers and his work as a writing tutor – and in the greater Atlanta community.  He is also an accomplished poet.  You can find more of his work here:

Mar 25 2011

The Worship that Surrounds Us

It is no small thing to ascend the stairs behind a pulpit.

When I walk up those two maroon-carpeted steps at my contextual education church, Haygood Memorial UMC, I shake with something other than nerves. If I quake for any reason, it is for the fear of God–the good kind–and my vast unworthiness to approach such a lectern and stand before the people of God . Yet it is my calling to be there all the same. Taking the pulpit is a privilege of the highest regard–what an amazing thing to be called upon to do–truly a sacred task.

My voice was one thing that did not waver or falter (even as I question my decision to wear heels on those steps!). The first thing I did as liturgist at Haygood was read an opening collect taken from the Hebrew Bible. There is a power and an authority that flows from the thousands of years of tradition in those words, a power to which I am privileged to lend my voice–in this time, in this language, in this context, for these people. Hear, O Israel! Shema, Y’Israel! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad.

It was the Shema that I was asked to read. The beauty of these words nearly brought me to tears when we sang it in Hebrew at the Shabbat service I attended as a part of Beth Corrie’s world religions course. This is the text that is at the core of the Jewish faith, the text, too, that Christian children know from  Vacation Bible School songs, the text that has initiated in me the practice of writing reminders of God’s love for me on my inner wrists, the text that led me to hang the cross I received from my church upon graduating high school on the upper door frame in my room–a living reminder of the faith I carry whether I’m in my room or without.

It is no small thing to read these words. And as I did, I was reminded of the first time I ever read Scripture in church. As part of my sixth grade confirmation class, we each were required to read in big church, and though I didn’t know really anything of its context at the time, I still remember that my text as sixth grade liturgist was Isaiah 6. It is poignant now, to think of reading this famous call narrative, not knowing then of the call I myself would come to answer when I came to Candler. And like Isaiah, still even today as I approach the pulpit, I feel the truth of the words, “Woe to me, I am a woman of unclean lips!”

Yet we know God’s M.O. in these call narratives: the prophet complains, but God offers reassurance. Eventually we might get it, God–we will never be worthy of the tasks you call us to do. But still you want us. You cleanse our lips and put words in our mouths.

While these experience of Sunday morning worship with Con-Ed II have been such concentrated little bursts of ministerial formation, I was reminded today, too, that the awesome thing about the kingdom of God is that it is everywhere among us. I can have church while I’m listening to Ingrid Michaelson in my car, because she sings the words that are otherwise trapped in my soul. I can have church while I’m sitting with one of my best friends outside at Starbucks, and we’re talking about our frustrations with ourselves and with the church and with seminary. We say that maybe it’s okay if she decides to someday walk away from the faith of her upbringing, that faith that was once so sure but now seems distant–it’s okay because it’s a part of the journey. And as we say those things, God is so tangibly near to us that I can taste it in the air (and I pray that she, too, will feel God again, soon, close enough to taste and feel and sense). And there we are, having church, just being friends and loving one another.

Emily Dickinson has a poem that talks about the worship that happens everywhere, all around us. Some might use such a poem as an excuse to not come to Sunday morning worship–a trend that is becoming all too real in our society. I think we need to be in church on Sunday mornings, worshiping God corporately and coming before God’s presence with a bit of fear and trembling every now and again. But it is good, too, to see the God-force all around us. It is a reminder that yes, the pulpit is a sacred space of intoning the words of God before the gathered assembly, but (as any good Methodist will tell you) the world is our parish, and the words we say and the God we meet in our everyday moments, with each breath in and out, with those words we also can preach.

What is it, then, that I am saying?

-Whitney Pierce

Whitney is a 2nd year MDiv student from North Carolina and a regular contributor to the Beatitudes Society blog.

Mar 18 2011

What Are You Doing Here?

This semester got off to a rocky start. Classes were postponed for a week as Atlanta dealt with the aftermath of “Snow-pocalypse 2011″. Initially, the snow provided a much welcomed extended winter break. When courses started, however, I realized the negative impacts of the snow.

Once the snow melted, Candler’s halls were filled with professors, staff and students trying to catch up from the class sessions that we’d missed: everyone was in a frenzy. It would have been a smooth transition had the snow not caused book shipments to be delayed by a week or two. Although the book store didn’t have many of the books that we needed to complete assignments, professors did their best to provide students with PDFs when possible – but everyone was still behind.

A couple weeks into the semester, I was still struggling to catch up/get ahead. My life had come to a halt: if it wasn’t directly related to my coursework, I didn’t have time for it. One day while sitting in the lobby, I was accosted by the Program Coordinator for Religious Education (RE). She inquired as to why I hadn’t signed up for the RE Retreat – which is a requirement for all persons seeking the RE certificate.

I calmly explained that I did not have the time to go away for a weekend for a retreat that I could complete next year: I needed to focus on my coursework. She gently responded that I should really consider going on the retreat in spite of my busyness, and that I needed to take time for self care amidst the mounting stress of the semester. She also casually mentioned that Dr. Anne Steaty Wimberly, religious educator extraordinaire, would be facilitating. With some reluctance, I agreed to go on the retreat – and boy, am I glad I did!

We started the weekend by reading a passage from 1 Kings 19. In this passage, Elijah has received a death threat from Jezebel. Afraid, he flees into the wilderness, and pleas with the Lord to take his life. After a couple of exchanges with an Angel of the Lord, Elijah gets up, and travels forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

When he arrives, Elijah goes into a cave to spend the night, and the word of the Lord comes to him saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

After Dr. Wimberly read this passage, she paused and asked us to think about this question in relation to our seminary experience. Why had we come Candler? Why had we chosen to be religious educators? Why had we come to this retreat? Were we there only because it was a requirement? Was our educational experience solely about making a grade? About catching up post “Snow-pocalypse”?

Surely, our education was about those things to an extent, but it was also about much more.

After pondering these questions for a moment, I was filled with a peace that surpassed my understanding. Suddenly, my mind was free of the guilt of missing out on time I could have been reading – I probably would’ve just watched TV, anyway. This moment, and the entire retreat, provided me with the perspective that I needed to continue the semester. Sure, I was bummed about being behind, but that couldn’t break me.

What I had not realized up until the retreat is that fear had been dictating the majority of my semester: Fear of not being able to catch up, not being adequate enough, not being able to find the right words at the right times to adequately represent my voice. Like Elijah, I was afraid.

But then the voice of the Lord came to me, through Dr. Wimberly, saying, “What are you doing here, Brandon? Go back the way you came… You’ve got work to do.”

With this admonishment, I was prepared to tackle the semester head on, no longer letting fear be the dominant factor of governance. Sure, there was and still is much work to do, but doing that work in fear is not of much help to anyone – especially not to myself. This passage has continued to shape my perspective on the semester, and the seminary experience at large.

I am here, ultimately, because God has called me to be. Furthermore, that calling is consistent and true whether I’m behind on my work, on top of my work, stressed, perplexed, frustrated, or whatever – you name it!

I am here: not just to be overloaded with information, not just to say I’ve completed all the assignments, but to be shaped and formed by the process as well. I am here because this is where God has called me to be.

“What are YOU doing here, (insert your name here)?”

-Brandon Maxwell

Brandon is a 1st year MDiv student from Nashville, TN and a Student Ambassador. He is also a participant in the Religious Education Certificate Program – one of the seven certificate program opportunities for Candler students.

Mar 9 2011

Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall on life at Candler

This week is Spring Break at Candler, but that doesn’t stop members of this great community from sharing their stories.  Here, Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall shares her experience of joining the Candler family.

Dr. Marshall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Conflict Transformation and is active in the United Methodist Church’s work in refugee resettlement as well as issues of peace building and public theology.

Mar 4 2011

Wrestling with Self and God

Let me begin by saying that I am not a proponent of violence or abuse in any form. However, I would like to use the analogy of wrestling in order to illustrate and describe my encounters with self and God this Spring Semester. Perhaps the story of Jacob will serve as a great point of entry.

When we encounter Jacob in Genesis 32 he is preparing to go home to meet his brother Esau. For those who are familiar with the story of Jacob before he left home, we know that the condition in which Jacob left home did not make the journey to return home look pleasant. Jacob was aware of this, but still decided to go home taking his family along with him. He received bad news from a messenger along the way that Esau was coming with about 400 men to greet him. This troubled him. If you will allow me to fast forward to verse 22, we see that Jacob has made the decision to send his family ahead of him in order to appease Esau, and he remained behind. He was alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak; “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” The story goes on to reveal that Jacob was not going to give in until he received a blessing. What Jacob received in the end was a greater revelation of self and God.

Like Jacob, I had to make some tough decisions in preparation for coming to Candler. I left my full time job as a primary school educator along with all the benefits that came with this position in the hope that I would enter into the rest and peace of God. In light of the struggle that I had in accepting my call to ministry, leaving my job and coming to Candler, and enduring the transition during my first semester at Candler, I thought that the battle was (somewhat) over. Not so! What I presumed to be an embodiment of the peace of God this semester and a free ticket to receiving a little more rest at night than last semester, was only a camouflage for what was actually an intermission or breaking between rounds in a wrestling match.

Little did I know three weeks into the semester I would encounter readings, assignments, and presentations in classes that would cause me to arise from my “false resting place” to be thrown back into the ring with readings and discourse that would challenge, bring greater awareness of my capabilities, and bruise (or dismantle ideologies within) me in this process of learning. In my Images of God class, I have been challenged to reflect on how the image of the God to which I pray and how I interact with this God is but a mere reflection of the life experiences, formative relationships, and the doctrine that I have encountered up until this point in my life. Also in my Contextual Education Seminar, I have wrestled with developing theologies of care, home, and hope, for those who are the disinherited and marginalized. While it would seem as if one could just embody the spirit of Christ and provide food, shelter, and clothing in order to aid those in poverty, this is but one small step, and does not seek to eradicate the structures and systems that perpetuate poverty, but merely manage it.

I thought that I would have some concrete answers concerning issues of injustice and how to tackle systemic issues that plague our society, but I am left searching and (re) discerning the fresh message that the biblical text speaks to such a fragmented, displaced, and hopeless people in a postmodern world. Even more so, I am left searching for God and discovering how my gifts can best meet the needs of those in our local and global society.  I am left unsettled in my being. Yet, like Jacob, I continue to hold on tight and endure this process at Candler, because the call continues to resound even though the “what” and the “how-to” dimension of this calling are yet to appear.

One thing that I have learned on this journey is that honesty with self and God is necessary. When the man or angel asked Jacob, “What is your name?” Jacob, with his history of trickery and dishonesty, could have answered my name is Victor, but he told the truth. In that very moment of confrontation and struggle, he was faced with the truth about who he was and even received a new name, Israel. This was symbolic of transformation.

In moments of wrestling with self and God, and being bruised in the process one can either choose to give up or surrender. One can continue to rely on self or see how interdependent and interconnected he or she really is and turn to a community of reliable others, or The Reliable Other, which is God. Instead of complaining during moments of wrestling with self and God, I want to encourage you to pay attention to what is being revealed during those moments. For in wrestling we find our true voice and become aware of our weaknesses and strengths. Despite the exhaustion, choose to prevail until the end! In the end you will be conditioned, equipped, and even energized to face both the war against social ills and fulfill the calling ahead.

Know that I am in solidarity with you on this journey!

-Ashley Thomas

Ashley is a first year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.